Putnam Legislators Again Discuss Climate Pledge

Say they are waiting for input from administration

By Holly Crocco

Putnam County legislators seem to agree that government should be doing all it can to prevent climate change, protect the environment and wildlife, implement smart infrastructure and capital improvements, and work toward building energy-independent communities that provide for the health and safety of residents.

But they are not all convinced that an official pledge is needed to continue the work that some say is already being done to move toward a “greener” Putnam.

Since 2015, the county Legislature has been considering taking the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Climate Smart Communities Pledge. It can be amended by local governments, but its 10 points must be adopted verbatim. In exchange, the county would earn points on its requests for state grants from the Regional Economic Development Council.

On April 25, Amy Sayegh (R-Mahopac Falls), the committee’s chair, noted that the county would have to, among other commitments, create an inventory of its emissions, decrease energy use, shift to renewable energy, use climate-smart materials and implement climate-smart land use.

She said 23 of the state’s 62 counties have passed resolutions. However, not all have created a task force or fulfilled all the requirements to be recognized as a Climate Smart Community.

In a presentation to the legislature’s Economic Development Committee in February, Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown), urged her colleagues to have the county join the initiative. Philipstown began working toward Climate Smart certification in 2017; Beacon and Nelsonville are also involved.

On April 25, Montgomery expressed disappointment that the pledge was only on the agenda as a discussion item, and not something for the committee to vote on to send to the full Legislature.

“I’m ready to move this forward,” she said. “If you guys don’t want to take the pledge, I will take the pledge and implement these 10 items. And I’d be happy to ask the state if I can take the pledge myself and do this. But I’m at the point where I don’t want to see this again before another committee.”

Sayegh said the Legislature was waiting on a response from County Executive MaryEllen Odell about how the pledge may affect various departments. “I believe the weight of this will fall on the Planning Department,” she said.

However, she voiced her support for the initiative.

“It helps facilitate networking between municipalities, much like our shared services initiatives,” Sayegh said of the pledge. “It lets residents know that the county does value green energy. We encourage everyone to participate in lowering their energy costs and their impact on the environment.”

Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel) pointed out that if the county takes the pledge but is unable to fulfill its commitment to become a Climate Smart Community, there are no repercussions.

“We have nothing to lose,” he said. “If we put it together, great. If it’s too cumbersome or too much work, we don’t.”

But Sayegh argued there is a downside.

“The downside is man hours and duplication of work,” she said. “I guess that’s the question: Do we need a task force and man hours and another volunteer board to fulfill the task that we’re already doing? We’re all in favor of green energy and saving the taxpayers money and limiting our footprint on the environment, but is it going to double the workload? Because now instead of doing what we’re doing, we’re also participating in a task force.”

Montgomery volunteered to go to the Planning Department as a coordinator and ask for a master plan for capital improvements planned at the county jail, upgrades planned at Tilly Foster Farm, and other steps the county is taking “as far as green-energy use.”

“I can easily put together a task force,” she said. “It’s important as elected officials to take this pledge and to sign on to this. We owe that to the public because of the state we’re in with climate change.”

Sayegh, however, said it’s not up to one legislator to decide if the county wants to take the pledge.

“It’s not a committee of one,” she said. “It is something that takes our entire county and our departments into consideration. It’s a resolution that has to be passed by a municipality. I don’t think anyone is saying we don’t want to pass it, but this involves the entire administration and the entire community and the entire county.”

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